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Black Students Overwhelmingly Affected by Chicago Public Schoolsâ Proposed Closures<br />

School closings in Chicago disproportionately affect Black students

Nine out of 10 of the Chicago Public School students potentially impacted by proposed school closings this year have a predominately Black student body, according to an analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Of those 129 schools located mostly on the South and West sides, 117 are majority Black,” reported the Sun-Times. One hundred and nineteen “have a percentage of Black students higher than the district average. [Of] the 129 schools....88 percent of the students are black.”

Chicago’s majority or all-Black residential areas are concentrated on the city’s South and West Sides.

The proposed closings are a sharp contrast to citywide data, where only 41.7 percent of CPS students are Black.  The proposed closures have outraged parents and neighborhood groups. “It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen,” said Dwayne Truss of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools Coalition based on the city’s West Side.

Chicago Public Schools' Commission on School Utilization released its final report on the district's closure plans on March 6. “After four months of public hearings and review, the commission...determined the school district has enough staff and available space to pull off 80 school shake-ups, including closings and total staff overhauls known as turnarounds.” reported WBEZ Radio.

The final report can be read HERE.

The schools targeted for closure in the final report are significantly fewer than the 330 schools initially flagged. “The communities that stand to be hardest hit are the same predominantly-Black neighborhoods that have experienced the bulk of prior closings,” reported Catalyst, the city’s well-respected journal on urban education, on Feb. 12.

 “Consolidating 80 schools, even over a two year period, would be huge,” added Catalyst in a report last week. “The district has never shuttered any more than 11 schools in one year.”

The Chicago Teachers Union is opposed to closing schools in the nation’s third-largest public school district. CTU President Karen Lewis blasted the reports as  "outrageous," reports the Chicago Tribune. "Given CPS' history, there is no way it has the capacity to shut down 13 percent of our entire school district without mass chaos," said Lewis.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the proposed closures were based not on race but on “capacity”—and maintains many schools on the city’s South and West Sides have lost students.

Chicago has the distinction of being “the most racially segregated city in the country”, according to Census data analyzed by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. The highly segregated city has lost 17 percent of its Black population—or about 181,000 people—between the years 2000 and 2010. Many Blacks have moved to the suburbs, the South or the Sun Belt. The city’s white and Latino populations have increased during that time.  “Many of the schools considered overcrowded are in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods and, therefore, safe from closing or consolidation,” added the Sun-Times.

The city’s schools are also highly segregated—and opposed federal desegregation efforts for decades. School superintendent Benjamin Willis headed the school system from 1953 to 1966 and “rejected calls for desegregation,” notes the Encyclopedia of Chicago History. Black schools were overcrowded and underfunded for many years, and “the portable classrooms added to Black schools were derisively labeled ‘Willis Wagons.’” The encyclopedia entry adds, “plans to achieve integration contributed to white migration from the city. When the Chicago Public Schools finally did undertake a court-ordered desegregation plan in the early 1980s, there were relatively few white students left in the system.”

Black public school students continue to experience substantial education and performance disparities in Chicago and across the nation. Black students are disproportionately classified as “special education” or “emotionally disturbed

Some of the targeted Chicago schools “have no business being on [the] list because the district isn’t capturing all the nuances in their utilization numbers,” Wendy Katten, executive director of the advocacy group Raise Your Hand, told WBEZ Radio.  “Some of these schools have a huge special education population. I was at one today that had a special education population of 37 percent and they didn’t have any empty rooms,” Katten said.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Byrd-Bennett must publish her final recommendations on school closures by March 31. After official public hearings are held, the Board of Education is expected to vote on recommendations in April.

Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News, NBC and FOX, The Atlantic, EBONY, The Los Angeles Times, The Advocate and others. Read his award winning site Rod 2.0. Follow him on Twitter: @RodMcCullom